Services that mask your identity online can preserve your privacy, but they can also be slow and unwieldy. Disconnect said Monday it had tweaked and upgraded its search capabilities to improve its speed, while Silo, an anonymous browser vendor, recently launched a personal edition for individuals.
Neither service gives the full functionality of a virtual private network, which can route the data sent to and from your router through a private "tunnel" that can anonymize your own IP. Silo comes close, but it includes a deliberate handicap: It prevents audio from playing within the browser, which makes it unusable for viewing videos of any sort.
Disconnect: an improved version of "Do Not Track"
Disconnect surfaced last October, although company executives said the company's technology had been worked on before Edward Snowden shone a spotlight onto the NSA and its dissections of personal privacy. The service works as a plug-in for for Google's Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple's Safari, and the Opera browser.
"Demand for online privacy has never been higher," said Disconnect co-founder Casey Oppenheim, in a statement. "People don't want or expect search engines, Internet service providers, the government, and websites they visit to record and connect their searches with their real name. Unfortunately, this type of unwanted tracking of our search history and other personal information is all too prevalent."
Essentially, Disconnect anonymizes Internet searches by rerouting the search request from your computer through its own servers. It does not anonymize your IP address--requesting my IP address with the plug-in enabled and disabled returned the same result. But it does work to obscure the information you send a Web site, if you choose, blocking tracking requests both from the site itself as well as from third parties, such as ad networks. This can duplicate the functionality already built in to some browsers, which can turn on "Do Not Track" requests by default. The difference is that DNT politely asks a site not to track it; Disconnect attempts actively to block it.
Disconnect's detour model differs slightly from the "InPrivate" or anonymous browsing modes built into Bing and Chrome. When you search for "how to buy an engagement ring," those modes prevent the search from being recorded in your browser history, but the search providers know they originated from your computer. Using Disconnect anonymizes the search step, but once you choose a link, you're also choosing to reveal yourself.
In the search for "cars" shown below, for example, Cars.com is listed as one of the entries in the secure search results. Once you visit the site itself, Cars.com will see that visit coming from your browser, not Disconnect.
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